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posted: 6/26/2014 5:30 AM

Gambling U.S. soccer fans put money where mouth is

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  • If Team USA were to make it to the World Cup finals, the gambling action in Las Vegas would go through the roof, experts say.

      If Team USA were to make it to the World Cup finals, the gambling action in Las Vegas would go through the roof, experts say.
    Associated Press file photo

  • Portugal's Silvestre Varela heads the ball past U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard on Sunday to leave the match in a 2-2 draw at the World Cup in Manaus, Brazil.

      Portugal's Silvestre Varela heads the ball past U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard on Sunday to leave the match in a 2-2 draw at the World Cup in Manaus, Brazil.
    Associated Press

 
 

You know a sport has arrived when people are willing to gamble on it in record numbers.

"Globally, the World Cup is bigger than the Super Bowl and March Madness," says Jason Logan, editorial features editor for covers.com, an international website that writes about gambling on sports.

World Cup gambling has been blamed for suicides and murders. Gambling on the tournament is so hot that some European soccer fans actually won by putting their money where Uruguay striker Luis Suarez's mouth is. They bet that Suarez, who has been punished twice before for biting opponents, would overcome the 175-1 odds and bite someone during the World Cup. Those gamblers won, and FIFA now is pondering penalties after Suarez appeared to chomp into the shoulder of Italy's Giorgio Chiellini.

In the United States, June is when professional hockey and basketball finally finish and football hasn't started, leaving baseball to dominate a slow season for sports bettors. But soccer is drawing more gamblers than ever at sports books in Las Vegas.

"There have been lines," says David Pemberton, director of specialty games for Caesars Entertainment, explaining how World Cup gamblers flock to the betting windows a half-hour before each match. "There is a ton of action on the day."

The USA-Portugal draw that set the stage for today's climactic game against favorite Germany attracted as many gamblers for soccer as do more traditional American sports.

"The numbers were pretty close to NBA Finals games," Pemberton says, adding that the soccer action might even have surpassed a regular-season NFL game. "With USA moving on, it will make soccer a little more popular."

During the last World Cup in 2010, when the U.S. team was eliminated with a loss to Ghana, much of the soccer betting was fueled by a foreign crowd in Vegas for the World Series of Poker at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino.

"That sort of drove that (World Cup betting) last time," Pemberton says. "Now Americans are part of it."

Some gamblers who win in Vegas feel compelled to bet on whatever is available. "They'll bet $5,000 on a WNBA point total," Pemberton says, referring to the women's professional basketball league that typically doesn't draw much betting interest. But Pemberton says soccer gamblers are seeking out wagers on the World Cup.

"A lot of it has to do right now with how well the U.S. team has been playing," Logan says. "Interest in the U.S. is bigger now than it has ever been."

He predicts today's game against Germany will draw enough betting action to make it "very similar to the World Series," the championship for American's Pastime.

The rise of Americans betting on the World Cup does mess with the odds. While most worldwide experts put the odds of the U.S. team winning the World Cup at about 100-1, "there was so much betting on Team USA, we're only offering 50-1," Pemberton says.

"In Nevada, they are almost blindly betting the U.S.," Logan says. "They aren't the most savvy soccer bettors."

Betting on the USA makes Americans feel good. Even if a miracle doesn't happen, that ticket is a conversation piece. That happens in other sports, too.

"A lot of people from the Midwest come in to get tickets on the Cubs and Bears," Pemberton says of tourists who often put down small bets on the Bears to win the Super Bowl or the Cubs to win the World Series. "No one's ever cashed one on the Cubs."

It's very unlikely that anyone will be able to cash in a ticket on the U.S. team to win the 2014 World Cup. But it would be good for Vegas and good for American soccer fans if the U.S. team advances to the next round.

"Once the U.S. is out, you're going to see a big drop-off," Logan predicts.

Casinos want to see the USA team attract soccer gamblers, but they don't want to see the team actually make the casinos pay off on a longshot.

"They want the U.S. to do well, but they don't want them to do too well," Logan says.

If Team USA were to make it to the World Cup finals, the gambling action would go through the roof.

"It would be higher than the World Series, the Stanley Cub and NBA Finals," Pemberton says. "But I don't think it would approach the numbers of the Super Bowl. Football is king."

Or, as soccer fans would say, "American football is king."

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